Can Rhinoplasty Improve Sleep Apnea?

Is surgery an option for sleep apnea?

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Ancient documents that include descriptions for repairing damage to the shape of a nose tell us that there may have been versions of rhinoplasty being performed as long as 5,000 years ago. It’s quite possible that sleep apnea has been around just as long, if not longer. There are no mentions of it, however, probably due to the fact that excessive tiredness or falling asleep was considered a character defect rather than a medical condition. Today, the two can often be found in the same conversation or reference.  

Sleep Apnea

Snoring can be fodder for jokes on late night TV and the cause of couples being forced to sleep in separate bedrooms. Snoring can also be a symptom of sleep apnea, which makes it a serious medical condition. Somewhere in the range of 12 million Americans, between 30 and 60 years of age, struggle with sleep apnea and nearly 40,000 people die every year as a result of the connection between sleep apnea and cardiovascular disease. It is also a known factor in its relation to diabetes, hypertension, epilepsy, heart attacks and stroke. 

We get the word apnea from the Greek a, meaning “absence of” and pnoe, meaning “breathing”. The absence of breathing is a perfect definition of sleep apnea. Those with this condition actually stop breathing at different times during the night. This can happen repeatedly, often hundreds of times, during one single night, which means that the brain, as well as the rest of the body, does not receive an adequate supply of oxygen. Besides contributing to serious health problems, sleep apnea affects an individual during normal daily activities. Some of the most common ways this plays out include:

  • Drowsiness during the day
  • Ongoing fatigue
  • Irritable or being quick-tempered
  • Moody or even depressed
  • Loss of focus and inability to concentrate
  • Impaired ability to operate equipment, including driving
  • Being more prone to accidents


The word rhinoplasty also comes to us from the Greeks; rhinos, meaning “nose” and plastos, meaning “molded or formed”. Rhinoplasty is a surgical procedure that molds or forms the shape of the nose. We often think of this in terms of aesthetics, as a way to change the appearance, but rhinoplasty can also be done for functional purposes. One of the most common reasons for this is to improve breathing. 

If you suspect that you may have sleep apnea, your doctor may suggest that you spend the night at a sleep clinic where you will be monitored throughout the night or recommend a test that you can do at home. If it is determined that you do have sleep apnea, the next step is typically the ever-popular CPAP machine, or, more accurately, the Continuous Positive Airway Pressure device. 

The CPAP can be life-changing in the amount of difference it makes when you sleep soundly and breathe continuously through the night. Unfortunately, despite the significant benefits, not everyone can adjust to wearing the mask, whether it’s the full-face style or the smaller nasal type. It is estimated that while there are more than 8 million people in the U.S. with CPAP machines, only about half of them actually use them. 

Because a deviated septum is one of the causes of sleep apnea, an option in place of CPAP for many people can be surgery. Septoplasty, the term used for nose surgery on the nasal septum, is often performed at the same time as rhinoplasty to make sure that any reshaping of the nose does not create breathing issues. According to The National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), which is a part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) “Functional rhinoplasty may have the potential to significantly improve the severity of obstructive sleep apnea for select patients with nasal obstruction.

If you are a current CPAP user or if you are having breathing issues, it might be a good idea to consult with an experienced rhinoplasty surgeon. It may be possible to take care of your breathing problems without the need for being attached to a machine every night. 

Dr. Brian D. Cohen is a Board Certified Plastic Surgeon with extensive training in cosmetic/reconstructive plastic surgery and has had years of experience performing a wide array of cosmetic surgery procedures, specializing in procedures of the face, eyes, nose, breast and body and is known for his exemplary and compassionate care by his patients. Knowing that Dr. Cohen has been selected by his peers in Super Doctors for 8 years in a row in 2020 gives you the confidence that he is highly respected for his performance in his specialty. Information on locations and office hours for Cohen Plastic Surgery can be found by clicking here


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